FURTHER delays in the printing of official ballots for the May 9, 2016 national and local elections could lead to a number of problems that may force the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to go back to manual voting in some areas including Metro Manila, an information technology expert said Tuesday.
Lito Averia, IT consultant of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), said the postponement of the ballot printing raises concerns because it would mean that the poll body will have less than 90 days to complete the printing process.
He said the Comelec will need 80 to 90 days to print 54 million ballots.
“In the previous elections 2010 and 2013, ballot printing did not start this late,” Everia said in an interview.
The Comelec was to start printing ballots on Monday but the commission had to postpone it because of incompatibility problems. The Comelec moved the printing to February 15.
Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim said the postponement of elections in some areas may happen in a worst-case scenario.
Averia said such scenario is possible considering that the Comelec is running out of time.
“Do they have any contingency measure? Will they resort to manual voting?” he asked.
If the Comelec runs out of time printing ballots, and if the poll body will prioritize voting in remote areas, then it is possible that election in Metro Manila not be held, Averia said.
The IT expert opined that while reverting back to manual voting is complicated, the voting process itself will be easy since everyone already know how manual voting is conducted.
The Comelec, he said, needs to study its options carefully because aside from time constraints, it should also consider other possible problems like printer malfunction that could further complicate the situation.
The poll body will be using three machines at the National Printing Office (NPO) to print the 54 million ballots. If one of the printers breaks down, 33 percent of the production will be affected, Averia noted.
Without a back up printer, the Comelec would take 45 days to bring in a new machine, he added.
The poll body also cannot speed up the printing to meet the deadline because it may affect
the quality of the ballots, particularly the ink density.
Averia explained that the ballots have security features and one of them is the ultraviolet mark that tells the voting machines that that ballot is authentic.
Speeding up the printing, he said, could affect the ink density on the ultraviolet mark that would make it unreadable for the voting machines and render the ballots spurious.
He said such scenario is not impossible because it happened in the 2010 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, Professor Ramon Casiple said the Comelec should explain more clearly why it had to postpone the printing of ballots.
“I’m not satisfied with the explanation of Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, the people deserve a clearer explanation,” Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) said in an interview.
Casiple said he sees no reason why there should be compatibility issues when the system they are using has been used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
He also wants to know why the Comelec only found the so-called compatibility problem on the day that the printing of ballots should start.
“We are now on the period of actual implementation, this is not a test anymore,” he added.
Casiple however doesn’t see any candidate benefiting from the delay but it would give the Supreme Court additional time to decide on the disqualification case of independent presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe.